On the day that Gordon Campbell announced his intention to resign, the producer of the Christy Clark Show on CKNW called me and asked if I would be a guest on her radio show. I accepted and as soon as Christy introduced me on air I asked her if she intended to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party. She told me emphatically that she did not plan to run. Smart move, I thought, you will save yourself from a lot of grief.
No one is likely to make much of that obvious contradiction to what she said she would do and what actually transpired, but if there is any competency amongst NDP backroom analysts I am certain that they will be combing through the archived tapes of every show that Christy Clark has done on CKNW to find controversial statements that she has made. When they do, they will find a veritable gold mine of material.
An edgy radio host tries to bait an audience with controversial or cutting commentary. Ratings are important for the advertising dollars that keep you on the air. Such commentary is great grist for the populace that regularly tune into CKNW and call in anxious to contribute their own vitriol when dealing with political matters. Christy’s contribution to some of those debates may not be easily tossed aside especially now that she has branded herself as “Premier Mom”.
Christy Clark often says what she thinks before she thinks what to say, and her candid remarks over the last few years have not only been directed against many who will be organizing for the NDP, but also against some who remain prominent within the party she now has to lead. Christy’s leadership is, therefore, vulnerable on two fronts.
First is the challenge that will come from opposing political parties who will attack her by going after her for her past performance within the Campbell government, as well as for her comments made freely without the thought of re-election while on-air as a radio host.
The first pictures of Premier Mom at her son’s hockey game might make a great photo op, but one cannot discuss the well being of kids without talking about their education, and Christy’s record as Minister of Education and her anti-union radio commentary has left no doubt that she does not support state-financed education over private schools, or at the very least a non-unionized teaching workforce.
You may recall that early in 2002, Clark as Education Minister led the Campbell government in the introduction of legislation that imposed a new collective agreement on teachers and stripped their union of significant power, including its control over class size, school hours and the school year. A month later Clark boldly told school districts that they must absorb the cost of the teachers’ three-year contract which she imposed. Understandably this did not sit well with the school trustees association.
Clark, ever the populist, thought that she could take refuge with the parents, arguing that she was taking on both the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the British Columbia School Trustees Association (BCSTA) to advance the interests of parents in the education system. It sounded but in reality it was a disaster and created greater confrontation between all parties directly at the expense of the children.
The NDP are already going after her record as Minister of Children and Family Development, one of the most difficult ministries to manage due to the large number of children in care and the potential for real tragedy when things go wrong. That happens regardless of who is Minister, and regardless of which party is in power, and would be less an issue if Clark hadn’t tied herself so closely to the issue of children and families.
The second problem that she faces is that she wasn’t supposed to win.
I can only imagine the wringing of hands and expletives mumbled by the backroom boys working on the Falcon campaign when the results of the second ballot came in. Falcon was backed by the powerful Vancouver business establishment who have over the years paid handsomely to maintain a Liberal/Conservative “coalition” to keep out the NDP. But the second ballot numbers were not what they had paid for and certainly not what they were expected to be. What’s more, the electronic voting by PIN is nothing like a delegated convention with real live breathing delegates whose vote could be swayed on the convention floor. In this instance there was nothing they could do about the result that quickly slipped from their grasp.
The Falcon team had pushed for the televote and committed themselves to getting new members and assigning them PINs. I am sure they thought that they could out buy the other candidates, but the system turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.
The party declared that the ranks had swelled to 90,666 new members who were “engaged in direct democracy”, each with a PIN that allowed them to vote. In the end roughly 34,000 of the individuals who signed up and presumably paid for the privilege to vote, didn’t. We will all be left to speculate why they didn’t cast a ballot.
The other factor that really hurt the Falcon coalition forces was the decision to move toward a weighted vote. In this process each riding was awarded 100 points, regardless of the number of members. There are 85 ridings in total so a total of 8500 points were up for grabs. Simple math tells you that half of that number plus one is 4251 which was the number required to win. Every leadership candidate received the percentage of the vote cast in each riding and those percentages were counted up toward the winning number. This worked in Clark’s favour because she was able to sign up more members in ridings without a BC Liberal MLA (i.e. they elected a New Democrat to Victoria) than any of the other candidates.
So, by assigning 100 points to every riding, those ridings in which there were very few Liberal members actually had a much larger influence on the outcome than in those that had over the years built up a large membership. The weighted vote system was supposed to let members in the less populated interior ridings feel they would have equal influence with the heavily populated urban ridings. What really happened was that those ridings that generally don’t elect a Liberal to Victoria actually decided the leadership race.
For example, if Clark received 30 votes or 50% from ten ridings with 60 members in each riding, she gained 500 points toward her goal from only 300 actual voters. If Falcon managed the same 50% percent or 300 votes from five ridings with 600 members he only received 250 points from 1500 actual voters. The bottom line is that the majority of individual Liberal members may have voted and still not have won for their candidate, and that poses a big problem for someone who has won the leadership through the vote of a minority of members, many of whom may be first time Liberals.
Add to this dilemma the fact that there is no way to confirm the legitimacy of this process, something that the backroom coalition machine thought they could use to their advantage, and we get a much clearer picture of how terribly wrong this all went for Falcon on Saturday night. At least for now there seems to be brave talk about uniting behind Christy Clark, but the Falcon camp were very successful in branding Christy Clark a loose cannon like Bill VanderZalm. That is something that John Reynolds, a former Social Credit MLA and staunch Conservative, remembers only too well as evidenced by his comments on CBC after the vote. He was a strong Kevin Falcon supporter, and represents those within the “coalition” who will not take Christy’s Liberal credentials very well. His burning desire to keep out the NDP may be enough to keep him in the Liberal camp, but already there are rumblings about the rise of a BC Conservative Party.
The powerful Vancouver business elite who represent the “coalition” will be watching the polls over the next few months as the NDP choose their leader, and as Clark starts to weather the political storm that is heading her way. If the polls look good they will do nothing to rock the boat, but if they don’t, they will withdraw all their support for Clark, hide their money, stop investing in the province and prepare for four years of NDP government by causing the economic landscape to look as barren as possible, something that they will later accuse the NDP of creating. Christy Clark will be relegated to the political scrap heap as they hand pick another Gordon Campbell who will do their bidding, and it isn’t at all clear if they will use the Liberal party to do so.
Clark needs to take a page out of the playbook written by the other Clark, former premier Glen Clark. She needs to do what he did in 1996 when taking over the leadership from Mike Harcourt. She needs to craft a careful agenda that reverses the slash and burn social agenda of Gordon Campbell. She needs to ACT in favour of children and families not talk about doing so. She needs to bring in a progressive budget and hit the ground running implementing it, and then call an early fall election and win a mandate from the people. That’s her best course of action if she wants to avoid the NDP snipers who will use her words to chip away her credibility and to avoid those within the coalition who are not happy that she upset their plans for their choice who is also the choice of the Conservatives: Kevin Falcon.
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Gordon F.D. Wilson was responsible for resurrecting the BC Liberal Party in the early 90's, only to be wrestled to the ground by Gordon Campbell for the top job as liberal leader. Wilson and his wife Judy Tyabji then launched another political party which wasn't going anywhere fast, then switched sides and became a member of the New Democratic Party of BC. Under the stewartship of NDP Premier Glen Clark, Wilson was elevated into cabinet, holding the position Minister of Transportation and BC Ferries. These days Gordon spends his time blogging on his website http://www.GordonFDWilson.com